Background and purpose of proposals

The Office for National Statistics’ Economic, Social and Environmental Statistics Group (ESEG) is exploring the ongoing transformation of statistics as part of its Ambitious, Radical, Inclusive ESEG Statistics (ARIES) Programme.

Part of the ARIES Programme will focus on the transformation of our business surveys and statistics. This transformation will help us to ensure that we continue to deliver high quality, inclusive and efficient economic statistics, in line with the UK Statistics Authority strategy, Statistics for the Public Good.

Over the course of the next three years, we aim to improve a number of our annual business statistics, including the Annual Business Survey, and the Research and Development Surveys. We will also implement improvements behind the scenes to the systems we use to produce some of our more frequent business statistics, such as the Index of Production and Index of Services.

To focus on these improvements, we have reviewed and are changing some of the activities we currently undertake. Our overarching approach is to ensure that we prioritise the transformation of our business statistics, whilst continuing to produce the key statistics and measures that our users tell us they need. The changes largely look to reduce some of our activities to alleviate pressure and/or to redirect resources onto transformation while also seeking to maintain quality of our outputs.

We will provide regular updates on our progress but if you have any questions, please contact the team at

Changes to some of our existing activities

Pause the ABS Special Analysis Service

As well as the publication tables, the ABS team offers on request, standard extracts free of charge, and a chargeable special analysis service for where the standard extracts do not meet a user’s needs. Until further notice we are pausing the special analysis service for the public.

Streamlining the tables in our publications

Many of our publications contain a significant number of detailed tables, some of which may no longer be needed by our users. Over the next few months, we will explore streamlining some of these, starting with our short term surveys, and reducing the number of tables we produce. Before any changes are implemented, we will notify users via the previous bulletin, to understand if there would be any significant impact.

Pause work on some administrative datasets

Administrative data is an important part of improving our statistics and will continue to be valuable in future. As we carry out large transformation to our existing data systems, this will have an impact on the way that we incorporate some new administrative sources. Until the new systems have been developed, we will pause the implementation of new administrative data sets, such as Corporation Tax data, in the Annual Business Survey. Work will continue to both acquire and build our understanding of these datasets, so that when new systems are in place, we will be able to implement them quickly.

Annual Business Survey (ABS)

In line with the approach taken during 2020 to 2021, there will be just one publication of the 2021 Annual Business Survey, which will be the final dataset scheduled for publication in June 2023. This means that there will be no provisional 2021 dataset published.

Last year the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) produced a report on the ABS, highlighting concerns around its systems and ability to meet user needs. To address these concerns, we plan to establish user needs, and seek to redevelop the ABS so that it provides relevant statistics and insights for our users, can adapt to incorporate new administrative sources as they become available, and is easier for businesses to complete. This development will also enable greater flexibility in the survey over the long term. As part of this redevelopment, we will consider the ongoing need for the publication of provisional results.

Research and development surveys

There has been significant interest in the ONS’ research and development statistics over the last year, including the growing differences between HM Revenue and Customs’ (HMRC’s) tax credit research and development statistics and the ONS’ BERD statistics, and a key mission as part of the Government’s Levelling Up agenda (mission 2).

In response to this growing interest, we have been working to review our existing research and development statistics. We have examined the methodology and surveys behind all of our research and development statistics, including Gross Domestic Expenditure on Research and Development (GERD), Business Enterprise expenditure on Research and Development (BERD), Government Expenditure on Research and Development (GOVERD) and Private Non-Profit research and development (PNP), this includes reviewing whether our current approaches are the best, and whether there are new data sources which can support these. Over the course of the next three years we hope to transform the way we collect and publish our research and development statistics.

To enable the first stage in this transformation, data from the 2020 GERD publication will now be published in November 2022, alongside the 2021 BERD publication. We anticipate both publications to introduce some improvements to the way we compile these statistics.

Further methodological changes will follow in later years, this includes exploring improvements to survey questions and the development of online capability for data collection.